Kids learn Spanish every day.  They learn it in elementary classrooms, in play groups, and in day cares.  They learn it with Pepe the brown dog in Stories Online.  But kids learn Spanish in specific ways, under specific conditions, and if those conditions aren’t met, language acquisition simply won’t happen.  That’s the science.

Still, myths swirling around the internet range from misleading information to outright lies. There they are, waiting to lure you.  What’s the bait?  The bait is a promise: we’d all love to see our kids speaking Spanish with little time or effort, right?  But let’s be careful to evaluate marketing messages against what linguists know about how children learn language.

Let us deconstruct of few of these myths for you.

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1. Kids learn Spanish by understanding grammar.

As you look for tools to support the young Spanish learners in your life, you might come across claims like

it’s really important to give students a basic understanding of Spanish grammar concepts

Or a company offering classes might assure you,

Children will learn articles, nouns, and verbs and have the opportunity to use their new knowledge.

The learning system might assure you that color-coding grammatical gender and verb endings is going to be the key to kids learning and using proper grammar in Spanish.  Now, using colors to get learners to notice grammatical changes in words is something I do in the classroom – when those learners are in the ninth grade.  Young children simply are not ready to analyze the grammar of a language. They internalize it naturally, and that’s the beauty of natural language acquisition.  Children can use the grammar correctly; they just can’t explain why.  And if they can’t explain why, that means it doesn’t do any good to explain it to them.  Honestly, they’ll just think you’re trying to make the content pretty.

Our tip: Look for programs that offer language children will understand and want to pay attention to, like fun stories. Then, trust that when correct grammar goes in, correct grammar (eventually) comes out.

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2. Kids learn Spanish in “just minutes.”

This might be the most common propaganda you’ll see on the internet.  Your kids will speak Spanish the first day.  X program is lightning-fast.

You don’t need to read a lot of research to know this is a lie.  You just need to remember how long it took your children to do this the first time around: how long for the individual words.  (“Ball.”)  How long to put two words together. (“Ball up!”)  How long they gave you chunked phrases because they’d heard the words together and understood them as one word. (“Hold you!”)  My son is five years old and today he said “I want she to put it on.”  He’s never heard that construction.  His brain is working out the grammar. And it’s taking this long to do it.  No one thinks this is unusually slow.  It’ll take years for your child to show measurable proficiency in their new language.  But that’s okay, and it’s worth it.

When companies say this what they usually mean is that you’ll hear something in Spanish from the beginning.  That could be true.  But that’s not what they say – and it doesn’t mean the kids will be able to order their food in Spanish at that amazing taco truck.

All that to say, find a curriculum with the right process, trust the process, and accept the stages that come as they come.

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3. Kids learn Spanish from curriculum that’s won “awards.”

You know those badges and ribbons you see plastered on so many educational product sites?  Heads up: business awards are a scam.  The curriculum has an award from “Dr. Toy”?  You may not even be able to investigate those awards (I can’t) because the site security is out of date.  The program has been named “Mom’s Best”?  That’s because the program paid to be named “Mom’s Best.”  That’s the way most of these awards work: the company pays a fee, and then the award group (maybe) evaluates the program and sends a digital badge to the curriculum company.

We’ve received various emails offering these awards to us.  We’re told “submissions will not be evaluated without payment” and also that they “require four non-returnable samples” of the product.  They say that “normally the price is $495 to be included” on the list, and we’ll get a “snazzy award seal” for our website, but since we’re a small business, the price can go down to $395.  We’re told to nominate ourselves via email, pay the entry fee, and if we’re chosen we’ll get that award seal (these groups like the word “snazzy”).  One of the awards “won” by a major language learning software producer requires companies to pay £195-£225 and their website currently looks like this:

Our advice? Totally ignore the “awards” a site/product/program has “won.” Look for reviews by real people, and evaluate that way.  The opinion from someone who used the program because they needed it and wanted to talk about it is far more trustworthy than that “snazzy badge.”

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4. Kids learn Spanish by clicking and tapping.

The world is changing.  The employment prospects are changing.  And ostensibly, education is changing.  Do kids need to engage in problem-solving and independent learning.  Yes, they do!  But their world language program is not the best place to do it.

When a curriculum company promises independent learning, be skeptical.  As tempting as it is for families to believe you can set a child in front of a screen, go prepare dinner, and when you get back they’ll be speaking in Spanish, this is a myth!  Language has always required personal connections to develop.  That’s why we have language- to connect with people!

Though we developed our Stories Online program to include as much support as a teacher or parent would need if they spoke zero Spanish themselves, we still want to push kids off the screen.  We say it in the introduction of our teacher’s guides and we believe it: lifelong language skills come from taking a personal interest in the target language community and becoming a part of it.  Make friends, and you’ll see the skills grow and grow- and, of course, your kids will have more friends.  Who doesn’t need that?

A few more tips:

Beware of a program emphasizing homework (doing what?) or correct pronunciation.  Especially young children distinguish and reproduce language sounds much better than adults of similar aptitude; it’s simply a non-issue.  Look for activities and tasks that get children engaging with comprehensible, accurate language and interacting with it over, and over, and over, in varied contexts.  Then you’ll see how kids learn Spanish.  As we like to say, you’ll see more smiles, and hear more Spanish.

Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is the chief storyteller for Calico Spanish.  She’s been working with language learners for 24 years and has three bilingual children.  She’s never seen language acquisition happen “lightning-fast,” but she’s seen it be worth the time it takes every single time.

If you follow us on Instagram or use our Accelerate program, it’s no surprise to you that here at Calico we’re huge fans of multilingual and multicultural children’s literature.  We love bilingual children’s books, and we love them even more when they’re all in Spanish, and we love them even more when they’re culturally authentic.

Drum roll, please: we’re giving away a title that fits the bill all three ways.

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Meet Alma

For our giveaway, Candlewick Press has graciously provided copies of both the Spanish version and the English version of a new children’s book, Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre (Alma and How She Got Her Name) by Juana Martinez-Neal.  Here’s how Candlewick describes it:

If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

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Teaching Ideas

This book is available on Amazon in English and in Spanish.  It really is a sweet, sweet story, and it has the stamp of approval from my children.  Let’s look at some ways you could use these books in children’s Spanish journey:
  • Read the English version with children in conjunction with our Stories Online Level B Culture Capsule “Families: Two Surnames?”
  • Adapt the Spanish version to comprehensible, repetitive language for your early language class.  The story lends itself to this very well.  For example, in the section about her great-grandmother:
    Papá dijo –Esperanza era tu bisabuela, Alma. Quería viajar por el mundo.
    Alma dijo –¡El mundo es muy grande! Yo quiero viajar por el mundo. Yo soy Esperanza.
    Then, in the next section,
    Papá dijo –José era tu abuelo, Alma. Era un artista. Quería pintar a nuestra gente.
    Alma dijo –¡Yo soy artista! ¡Quiero pintarlo todo! Yo soy José.
    I think you can see how this would lend itself to a beautiful reflection project on personal identity.  Even if they could only do this for one person in their family – wow!
  • Use the information about Alma’s familia to draw a family tree and identify who each person is to her.
  • Make a list of the actions Alma wants/likes to do (viajar, pintar, leer, buscar flores).  Then, compare and contrast which of your learners also like to do these things.
  • Explore the concept of what talismán a family might choose if they believed like Pura that nuestros ancestros estaban siempre a nuestro lado.
  • Explore the signs defending las causas justas like Candela did, and ask learners what they would write on a sign, and for what causa justa.
  • Read the Spanish version with an AP Spanish class and ask them to do interpersonal speaking and presentational tasks on the question “¿Cómo obtuviste tu nombre?” in the AP theme of Personal and Public Identities.

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How to Win Alma (x2!)

We’ll give away these books on Friday, May 18.  How can you win?  Just comment (and then watch for your notifications!) – tell us here on the blog, on our Instagram, on Twitter, or on Facebook:
How did you get your name?
SinceI have to answer this question all the time, I’ll start.
Sara significa <<princesa>>.  Yo tengo cuatro hermanos.  Soy la menor y la única chica.  Yo soy la princesa.  Soy Sara.
My parents had four boys before they “finally” got a girl- me! Consequently, they couldn’t pin down just two girl names so I have three.  My mom “won” with Sara first, my father with Elizabeth after, and then I have a middle name too.  Little-known fact: Sara-Elizabeth is actually my first name.  It’s a pain with computer systems that restrict names to 12 characters, that’s for sure!
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is the mom of 3 bilingual children, a Spanish teacher, and the chief storyteller at Calico Spanish.


Answer: They’ve changed.

All three of these are examples of language changes in recent years, at least in Spanish.  Thus, they’re the three biggest changes we made in our recent rather significant update to Calico Spanish Classic for Schools, our beginner level for elementary Spanish teachers.

Alphabet changes

In 2010, the RAE made some changes to the alphabet.  This concept is a bit foreign, to be punny, to English speakers, because we don’t have an academic body that meets to decide what is English and what is not, or whether it’s time for the alphabet to change.  But Spanish does.  And in 2010, the Real Academia Española decided to make the following changes to the official Spanish alphabet:

  • The letters ch and ll were removed; they are now considered “digraphs.”
  • The new name of “y” is ye.
  • The only name for “B” is be.
  • The only name for “V” is uve.
  • The only name for “W” is uve doble.

Color changes

What about pink and orange?  This isn’t an issue of the RAE, really, but rather how people talk.  As Spanish teachers, we often learned vocabulary from textbooks that told us the word for pink is rosado and the word for orange is anaranjado.  As I collected children’s books for my children, though, I started to notice some of them used rosa and naranja for these colors.  Had the word changed?  What did users actually use?

As we continue to develop Calico Spanish Stories Online Level D (“I Like the Farm”), which features a new pig character as well as a mother-daughter Monarch butterfly team, our color focus is pink and orange.  So, it was time to investigate exactly which words to use.  Wow, has this usage changed.  I was so surprised.

Songs and children’s books are all over the map on this, including our own popular Colores, colores,” which uses anaranjado (but does not include pink).  The WordReference forums muddy the waters even more, giving the “old” usage of rosa as the color as a noun, and rosado is the adjective, varying from country to country.

So, I went to my source of all things frequency related: I hit Google.


Here’s what I found on pink:

  • vestido de color rosa: 735,000
  • vestido rosa: 408,000
  • vestido rosado: 350,000

That’s right.  The usage we all learned in school, vestido rosado, is actually the least common.  In fact, the Spanish online shopping site Zalando offers vestido rosa and vestido de color rosa but not vestido rosado at all.

But this isn’t even consistent across nouns, not even across masculine nouns.  See what happened when I changed it to “pig”:

  • cerdo rosado: 90,000
  • cerdo rosa: 40,000
  • cerdo de color rosa: 28,000


Now, what about orange?  Here’s what happened with mariposa:

  • mariposa naranja: 35,000
  • mariposa de color naranja: 32,000
  • mariposa anaranjada: >20,000

Again, the phrase I would’ve used based on what I learned in school is least common.

With gorra the phrase gorra de color naranja comes out on top by a significant margine.  Here’s how significant that margin is with vestido:

  • vestido de color naranja: 600,000
  • vestido naranja: 300,000
  • vestido anaranjado: 17,000

It seems like rosado has always really meant “pinkish” and anaranjado has always meant “orangeish,” and now usage is really reflecting that.
In case you’re curious about what we decided to do with these colors in Level D:

Es un cerdo rosado.

César es un cerdo rosado.

Ofelia tiene una gorra rosa.

Mía es una mariposa negra y naranja.

César tiene una bufanda de color naranja.

Our updates

Curious as to how these changes play out in our new version of Classic?

We want to be up-to-date on language usage!

  • Before: Each chapter introduced one letter of the traditional alphabet, including ch and ll.  Because there were only 15 chapters, this meant only A-M were included in the curriculum chapters.  Lessons for N-Z were added in an appendix.
    Now: Each chapter includes lessons for 1 or 2 letters of the current, 2010 RAE alphabet, and lessons for all letters appear within the chapters and their scope and sequence plans.  Optional lessons for ch and ll are in an appendix.
  • Before: flash cards, posters, and lesson plans referred to pink as rosado and orange as anaranjado with outdated language notes for anaranjado.
    Now: Flash cards, posters, and lesson plans give preference to rosade color rosa, naranja, and de color naranja with language notes on how these uses have changed and the current usage of rosado and anaranjado.

And guess what? We’ve even updated our alphabet song to reflect the 2010 alphabet.  (That release will be announced in a separate post.)

We want to provide you with the very best in elementary Spanish curriculum options, and when we see a significant language change, we see an opportunity to improve.  We hope you’ll agree.

Happy Mom’s Day!

Mother's Day printable in Spanish

¡Feliz Día de la Madre!

We recently saw an adorable Mother’s Day “My mom and I” printable activity in English.  We love these activities and thought it was such a great idea we’d do something similar in Spanish. In ours, we’ve featured some of our Stories Online characters with their moms and grandmothers.  Here at Calico Spanish, we are moms and love to honor mothers and all they do, in everything from our content to our support for homeschool families to the way we package and distribute our materials.

What mothers are in our Stories?

In the Stories Online program, here are some of the mamás and abuelas children will meet:

  • At the beginning of Level B, “I Love My Family,” we meet Alicia, la mamá de Pepe, el perro café.  It’s Pepe’s birthday and she has a gift for him, a new collar in his favorite color, negro.  He tells her, “¡Te amo, Mami!
  • Later in Level B, we meet Camilo el conejo blanco in the park and he’s with his abuelo and abuela.  His abuela helps him understand that he’s especial because even though he isn’t athletic and doesn’t like to play soccer like Pepe and Goyo el gato negro, he’s who he was meant to be: he’s good at jumping, he loves to read, and he likes to play hide-and-seek.
  • At the end of Level B, in the lesson on pets, María la mona amarilla wants to tell her friends all about her abuela‘s new pet, a pájaro azul named Perico.
  • In Level C, “I Live Here,” we’re invited into the home of Rita la rana verde and her family.  In their multigenerational home, Rita’s abuela lives with them.  Rita ends her busy day with her abuela helping her find her favorite storybook and reading it with her until she falls asleep.  “Buenas noches, nena.  Sueña con los angelitos,” her abuela tells her.

Kids can meet all of these characters and their friends and family right now, because your first seven days of learning are absolutely free, with no restrictions.  It’s ideal for children ages 5-9 in any learning context, including preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and homeschool situations.

Where’s the activity?

Here we offer you a PDF download of the printable in a version for mamás and a version for abuelas. It asks children to tell us about their mamás and abuelas:

  • My mom/grandma is named _________.
  • My mom/grandma is ___________ and ___________. (Example: tall and smart)
  • With my mom/grandma, I like to ______________.
  • I love my mom/grandma because _________________.

Ready for your free download?  Just click one of the images for your PDF.

Mother's Day printable: Mi mamá y yo

Click for PDF.

Abuela version of Mother's Day printable in Spanish

Click for PDF.


And happy Mother’s Day from the moms of Calico Spanish!

Happy Mother’s Day from Calico Spanish!


Culture capsulesEspecially for early novice learners, culture can be a tough topic to cover in depth, beyond the infamous “Five F’s“: festivals, food, flags, fashion, and famous people.  Throw in the fact that interculturality standards for language classes can’t be met outside of the target language, and it gets tougher.  Throw in a situation where the teacher, guide, or parent doesn’t speak Spanish proficiently (or at all) and something’s got to give.

Instead of ignoring the problem, we decided to tackle it.  We came up with what we think is a startlingly effective solution, and we hope you’ll think so, too.  We took several cultural elements in our Stories Online curriculum and used them to develop what we call “Culture Capsules.”  They bring together the best elements of research-based lessons: engaging content, achievable goals, critical thinking in an inquiry model, and of course, a target-language communication goal at the end of each one.

In each Culture Capsule, the teacher guides learners through a discussion on the capsule’s topic, while the children note answers to questions in their own print guide.  Then, the class, group, or individual learners investigate answers to often deep cultural questions.  Each capsule also culminates in a communicative task that asks children to demonstrate cultural awareness in Spanish, based on the national standards set by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Here are the Capsule topics in each level of Stories Online.

Level A: I Am Special

  • Are “You” My Friend?
    Why do Spanish speakers change the word they use for “you”?
  • Days of the Week
    How do we decide what is the first day of the week?
  • Flags and Their Colors
    What do the colors mean in the flags of the Spanish-speaking peoples?
  • Describing Myself – free download below
    What do the Spanish-speaking peoples “look like”?

Level B: I Love My Family

  • Special Days – free download below
    How does culture affect how we celebrate birthdays and other special days?
  • Two Surnames?
    How do many people in the Spanish-speaking cultures structure their names, and why?
  • Community Activities
    How do communities in different cultures have fun together?
  • A Family, A Community
    How do families in different cultures show their love for each other?
  • Pets
    Are the types of pets people like to keep different from culture to culture?

Level C: I Live Here

  • Home Is Where the Heart Is – free download below
    What is the same and what is different about homes in different cultures?
  • Let’s Eat!
    What is the same and what is different about foods in different cultures?
  • ¡Gol!
    What games and programs do people in the Spanish-speaking cultures find entertaining?
  • ¿Qué hora es?
    How does culture affect how people think about and talk about time?

Ready to see these in action with your learners?  The above Capsules are included as part of the Stories Online program, but we’re pleased to offer you three of these Capsules to download absolutely free.  Just head over to this page and get started.  And please, tell us what you think!

Let’s teach children to speak real Spanish to real people for a lifetime. Starting today.  Learn more about this innovative program for any preschool, kindergarten, elementary class, or homeschool at Discover Stories.


Are you looking for more content to help you show Spanish greetings and introductions to your learners? GREAT NEWS!

Greetings & IntroductionsAfter recently uploading one of our first non-song videos in a long time, we’ve just added FIVE more, and we think that you’re going to find them super useful and that your learners will love them.

Greetings: Highest frequency language in non-TL culture

Meeting someone for the first time and telling them your name, how old you are, and something about yourself are among the most useful and common language early learners in our culture will acquire. Why?  Spanish speakers are all around them, and they will be able to start using their Spanish right away in the post office, library, stores, and more.  And children using their Spanish in front of their parents is great advocacy for your program!

These videos are all about greetings and introductions – those pieces we spend so much time helping our young learners with at the beginning of their journey.  Each features a clip from our Stories Online program; various characters greet each other and introduce themselves or someone else:

Here are the videos.  Be sure to tell us in the comment section what you think!

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Video 1: Pedro meets María

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Video 2: Pepe introduces his dad

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Video 3: Greetings/ introduction with Goyo & Pedro

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Video 4: Camilo introduces Goyo to his grandparents

Ready for one more?

Video 5: Goyo meets Raúl

The Calico Spanish Stories Online program is a comprehensive curriculum for teachers/parents of any Spanish ability.  The program is based on Video Stories filled with comprehensible input and also incorporates fun songs, activity sheets, flashcards, Culture Capsules, games, posters, and original audio/video Storybooks.  Learn more and sign up for a free trial today!


by Intel Free Press, on Flickr

In the world language education field, elementary teachers would certainly win in a competition for most variety in situations.  This one has 30 minutes per week and a total of 620 students, that one has 90 minutes per week with 270 students, this one has 7 home languages represented in a single classroom, that one has 65% heritage speakers and 20% having had zero exposure to the target language, and on and on.

The variety in timing is the reason Calico Spanish Classic for Schools offers both 30-minute and 60-minute pacing schedules for each chapter, but what about the issue of such widely varying language abilities in the same classroom?

Below, we take some of the content from Chapter 1 of Calico Spanish Classic and offer ways three types of students in the same classroom can be accommodated.


Teachers are encouraged to go over all the colors as they prefer, but in the interest of presenting vocabulary in manageable chunks for young children, Calico Spanish introduces one color at a time. In Chapter 1, children learn the color blue and begin to describe objects as blue.  In this lesson, you are instructed to use the book First Thousand Words in Spanish and a globe or map to introduce the concept. Then, in an extension activity, children begin a class color book and/or individual color books.

  • “I’ve never been exposed to Spanish before.”
    The curriculum’s teacher script is designed for this type of student as a baseline. Children may not understand and acquire the names for the objects you are describing as blue, but as you point and describe blue items, they will understand and be able to complete descriptions with the word azul.
    In the suggested extension of an individual color book, this child can be expected to simply label the color azul.
  • “I know some vocabulary.”
    These children have been taught basic vocabulary like numbers and colors before, but have never been asked to use them in a communicative activity. In whole-class or small-group interaction, they should be encouraged to complete the function of description by pointing to different items and including the verb: es azul. They may have also been taught lists of items like articles of clothing. Can they include names of these items? “La camisa es azul.
    If these children have started using phrases including verbs like es, this may be an opportunity to ask them to begin using different grammatical structures, such as los zapatos son azules.
    These types of descriptions (es azul, son azules) should appear in this child’s individual color book instead of just the word azul.
  • “I hear Spanish at home.”
    Children who are hearing Spanish spoken at home but are being educated in a predominantly English school situation in an English-speaking society have high interpretive listening skills, but are not usually asked to produce the language. They may even be discouraged from speaking Spanish by their families who equate success with higher English ability. History and societal factors have shown us that these children will grow up with a very limited ability to speak in Spanish, and their children will have little to no skill with the language at all.
    In whole-class interaction, you may choose to quickly ask a child in this category to be your asistente del día. After you point to something in the book or on the map that is azul, ask your asistente to show another, and take turns in this way.
    You may choose to divide your class into groups and make a heritage student the capitán who holds a picture book and turns the pages pointing to objects and describing them with a sentence but, as you did, leaving out the final word azul, to be filled in by the children in the group.
    This child’s individual color book can include both descriptions and perhaps opinions about the color, such as me gusta el azul, or connectors and additional adjectives: la ballena es grande y azul. Because heritage speakers hear so much of the language but do not as frequently see it written, they often struggle with spelling and punctuation in Spanish. This is not a focal point for non-heritage children, but asking for more accuracy in this area from these students is an effective differentiation strategy.

Game: “Diego dice”

Games are, of course, one of children’s favorite ways to interact with language in a way that lowers anxiety and engages the mind. As you conduct a game of Simon Says (Diego dice), for example, consider these ways you might adjust for multiple levels in the same classroom.

involve students in suggesting one or two extra commands, divide into groups and make them captains, reinforcing the parts of the body for them and their friends

  • “I’ve never been exposed to Spanish before.”
    You will want to be sure you have the suggested commands chart visible for these students and remember that following the simple commands is a good demonstration of comprehension. They may also be able to count with you.
  • “I know some vocabulary.”
    If children have been exposed to vocabulary previously, they may enjoy adding their own suggestions to the list of commands; for example, they may suggest replacing los pies with la cabeza in the command to touch one’s feet.
  • “I hear Spanish at home.”
    Heritage speakers will enjoy being the capitán directing a whole-class game of Diego dice and/or leading the game within small groups.

Alphabet: A, agua

  • “I’ve never been exposed to Spanish before.”
    New learners will benefit from as much in-depth exposure to comprehensible input related to the sound of A and the vocabulary word agua as you can provide.
  • “I know some vocabulary.”
    Ask students who have had some prior Spanish exposure if they can think of other words that also begin with A.
  • “I hear Spanish at home.”
    In your script of how to introduce A and agua, you are encouraged to involve students by giving a few a small glass of water and talking about how they have un vaso con agua. This is a perfect place to involve heritage learners as participants in the script, because they will be able to answer the question “¿Cuántos vasos de agua tienes?” and provide more input that also includes more variety because you are not the only one speaking.

As these examples show, serving students with varied language abilities can be challenging but is certainly achievable particularly by focusing on two strategies:

  1. What added layers of vocabulary and/or grammar can I ask students of higher ability to include instead of me doing it for them? Most activities can be made more challenging for students of higher ability by adding layers of vocabulary and/or grammar. Try to avoid doing for them what they can do for themselves.
  2. Involving heritage speakers in the input and processing stages, especially in speaking and literacy activities, keeps them engaged and encourages them to develop skills with which they typically struggle.

In your adjustments, keep in mind that your beginning students will need varied repetitions of comprehensible input, and your heritage students need all the reading and writing activities you can provide so they can become and remain literate in their heritage language.

Best Authentic Resources for World Language TeachersCultural items like food are just some of the ways that #langchat participants are using authentic resources in their classrooms.

“Authentic resources can be anything from the target culture that exercises their senses, from visuals to food,” newcomer @weslotero explained during Thursday night’s #langchat. While many teachers know the value of using authentic audio and video resources in their teaching, there are a variety of different kinds of authentic resources that can be effectively used in the classroom.

As the world language community shifts towards integrating both traditional and new authentic resources, language professionals are turning to their colleagues to find the best ways to teach with them.

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Authentic Resources for Reading

One of the main reasons #langchat teachers use authentic resources is to help students improve their reading proficiency in the target language. Reading resources like articles and newspapers provide a low-stress way of introducing authentic material, especially for students who feel more comfortable with “book work” than communication.

@emilybakerhanes explained, “I like authentic images/ads/readings. Level ones don’t get overwhelmed and learn critical reading skills.”

Tips and resources for authentic reading:

  • @profesorM has his students “use online real estate sites and ipads” to increase reading engagement. One of his favorite activities is having students peruse sites with their Ipads in order to find and go through the steps of “buying” a house in an actual Spanish-speaking community.
  • @SenoritaClark uses People en Español because it is “relevant and engaging” for her students.
  • @jas347 encourages other teachers to invest in “subscriptions to mags, newspapers…full of authentic images, ads, text and text and cultural info!”
  • @spanishplans gave great links to ESPN deportes to find high-interest reading for male students. They also shared a link to Nulu, which has articles to increase reading comprehension as well as audio read-throughs.
  • @CristinaZimmer4 said, “While not completely authentic, Viente Mundos has some nice articles about culture in Spain, with lessons to go with.”
  • @Sra_Hildinger offered her suggestions for international reading: Newspapers around the world and Tom Alsop’s list of newspapers for WL.

Getting Students “Sold” on Authentic Resources

@CoLeeSensei reminded us that heavy reading isn’t the only way to use authentic resources. She said, “#Authres doesn’t have to be ‘text intense’ – authentic is more than that!”

A good example of this is with advertisements. Advertisements are designed to get people engaged, which is why they are so effective in the classroom. The visually appealing image and direct language makes them excellent teaching tools, especially at lower levels.

@emilybakerhanes said, “I want to do more w/ advertisements. Strong images w/short statements will stick in their head!

A number of other teachers agreed, citing ads as great tools for teaching context, good starting points for conversation and instruction on media literacy.

  • @ZJonesSpanish shared some media literacy and 21st Century skill-building advertisement activities.
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Wandermami’s Delicious page has quite a list of commercials.
  • @senoraCMT suggested that #langchatters use PubliTV to find excellent ads for classroom use.
  • @placido reminded us of @SEOCottrell’s compilation of Spanish commercial transcripts.
  • @lanecindy1234 also shared her collection of commercials and @CristinaZimmer4 shared her favorite Spanish commercial site, Comercial Mexicana.
  • @CatherineKU72 also suggested that teachers keep their eyes open for ads while traveling. She said, “While on trips, I raid the supermarket for the ads. They are light-weight to bring back (10 copies!) and offer non-tech solution.”

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Worth a Thousand Words

Still, ads aren’t the only visual mode of authentic resources. Many teachers are enamored with cartoons and other images to motivate language skill-building. @placido said, “Memes and cartoons are short, sweet, plentiful and relateable!” and gave an example. Both @ProsperaHLP and @SenoraCMT agreed, sharing their favorite sources for cartoons: Malfalda and Pinterest.

Other great ideas for using images? Movie posters, photos and videos. @Sra_Hildinger shared the Culturally Authentic Pictoral Lexicon for a good source of cultural images.

@ZJonesSpanish said, “Movie posters are great, especially for seeing linguistic variation in action (Spain vs. Latin American posters) and intriguing translations.” @placido also loves using still images to teach, but laments the limited access from her school campus. “Flickr is a wonderful source for beautiful photos. Blocked at school though.”

  • @LesliePhillips3: “For photos, write what happened before pic, during, and prediction about after.”
  • @km_york: “I like to add on to the cloze with image to text match, translation, illustration and put in order activities too.”
  • @crwmsteach: “With movies or video clips: describe people; what are they doing/did/will do; your opinion of film or character.”
  • @LesliePhillips3: “Sometimes I first play the video with no sound so language learners can observe, predict and question.”

Feasting on Authentic Resources

“Do we consider objects or food to be authentic resources? I think so!” @placido exclaimed. Many participants talked about the excellent ability of food to connect students with the culture and peoples of their target language class. From language-rich restaurant menus to online grocery stores, #langchat participants shared some of their favorite ways to incorporate food as an authentic resource.

  • @jas347 said, “Find your favorite restaurant chain in France, search furnished apartments in Paris, look up French Top 40…options are endless!”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Some businesses are adding 3D or virtual visit of their shops like this virtual boulangerie pour les profs de FR.”
  • @ZJonesSpanish said, “We love to look at grocery-store circulars around holidays,” then shared the Plato del Dia site, an archive of hundreds of Spanish-language menus.
  • Online grocery stores: Mas x menos, Compra Online, DR’s Supermercados Nacional.
  • @profesorM suggests to do a food tasting in class. He said, “Goya makes tropical fruit juices, we have a tasting with plantain chips, salsa and tortillas.”
  • @spanishplans said, “I’ve been using “how-to” cooking videos in Spanish. Students watch, then summarize recipe. Or type of transcript and do cloze.”
  • @weslotero said, “I like bringing food and drinks into my class like horchata and conchas from mexico.” @ProsperaHLP also suggests bringing foods like guava paste, arroz con leche, Moros y Cristianos (rice & black beans), or empanadas. @spanishplans suggested the fruit “tuna” (prickly pear) as well as Inca Kola.
  • @muchachitaMJ said, “Another fun #authres is Yelp. Students read reviews in language in their choice about restaurants, places in city, hotels + more!”
  • @muchachitaMJ shared her experience with using authentic food as a classroom reward. “I used mini bananas for a prize yesterday. One girl was mad. Ha! The rest went nuts because they had never seen a mini-banana!” @SenoritaClark responded, “I LOVE that idea! Authentic AND healthy!”

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Creative Ways for Using Authentic Resources

Class Warm-Ups. Authentic resources are engaging and a great way to get students thinking about the lesson. @placido uses authentic resources to motivate and inspire discussion. Other #langchat participants have used authentic music as transition activities as the class enters for the day.

Reading and listening guides. Reading and listening guides provide needed structure, especially for students who are more comfortable with doing worksheets. @placido explained these benefits in her classroom and shared an example of a listening guide.

Websites in the Target Language. Students love looking at websites in the target language because it can resonate personally with them. Not only that, but @jas347 explained that they can also “learn tech/online navigation vocab and explore [specific] topics.”

Live Communication. There is nothing more authentic than interacting with a native language speaker. @profesorM mentioned his use of e-Pals, but was unimpressed with the level of interaction. @emliybakerhaynes mentioned Skype as a method of authentic communication, but cited possible technology problems as a demotivator. @jas347 offered a great low-tech solution: “We partnered with International Book Project to penpal with school in Cameroon…they send us #authres! great for cultural variety!”

Using Classified Ads. A number of teachers use classified ads to expose students to the target language. @ElSrScharf said, “I use Craigslist ads from different countries- apts for rent, furniture, etc #langchat tweeting from Costa Rica trip w stdts.” @emilybakerhanes agreed: “In college we looked at classfied ads. Teaches odd vocab and abbreviations. Especially looking for a flat.”

Incorporating Music. Music is one of the easiest and most common ways to engage students with authentic resources. Great ideas included @profesorM’s idea of playing songs in the target language and then filling in lyrics on a listening guide. @CoLeeSensei has a “song of the week” from Itunes in the target language country, often with an accompanying music video. @senoraCMT suggested making a Wordle of some lyrics and then having students pair up to compete to see which team can identify the most words. @LesliePhillips3 shared an idea to to provide song lyrics out of order or with sentences divided, so students have to match the beginning with the end.

Using Twitter. Since many students spend so much time on Twitter in their personal lives, it connects them personally when they are able to see tweets in the target language. @SenoritaClark and @jas347 suggest changing the location of the trending topics to a country that speaks the target language in order to get the best, “coolest” tweets. @ZJonesSpanish also shared their “Twiccionarios,” for Spanish teachers.

Other great ideas:

  • @km_york: “I’ve done clips where I play the audio and have them pick out Who/what/where and relevant vocab #langchat just for the gist.”
  • @placido: “#authres make a great warm-up to motivate and inspire a discussion. I often use mine to start up a story.”
  • @Val_Hays: “Look at online apartment/house listings in TL and have ss draw floorplans.”
  • @weslotero: “My wife sent me 2 alpacas for Valentine’s Day last week. My students got to feel a Peruvian animal in the classroom! They loved it!”
  • @ZJonesSpanish: “We like to use #authres in task-based activities, like ‘Plan dinner and a movie in X place.’”
  • @jas347: “Changing YouTube account into TL and into a country that speaks TL!”

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Implementing Authentic Resources Effectively

Although it is clear that #langchatters love authentic resources, the wealth of materials available can be overwhelming and difficult to implement. Two major issues came up during the chat that teachers seem to have trouble with: using English when introducing authentic resources for reading and listening, and differentiation.

A number of teachers wondered if it is wise to use English to assess students’ understanding of authentic resources. @LesliePhillips3, @emilybakerhaynes and @muchacitaMJ all discussed the necessity of stepping out of the target language to assess comprehension of an authentic resource. @emilybakerhaynes said, “We want to test their understanding of the reading, not our questions.”

The other major obstacle in using authentic resources at teaching tools is differentiation. Clearly, each teacher’s classroom has a different set of challenges that require creative thinking when using authentic resources. Some classrooms must have alternatives for special needs students. Other classrooms have limited access to technology, or have many websites blocked.

#langchat participants came up with some good strategies for these types of obstacles. For those with limited technology, @emilybakerhanes suggested “Music w/printed lyrics, printed ads, projected ads/cartoons.” @senoraCMT also offered, “I have only one computer with a large monitor. I just show them there.” For classrooms with visually impaired students, @CatherineKU72 introduced the idea of focusing on audio resources. She said, “Why not offer the sounds and music of the city? Tongue twisters or audio books.”

Making Authentic Resources Comprehensible

Finally, @placido gave some sage words of advice: “Remember to activate acquisition with comprehensible input! All #authres with no #CI doesn’t work!” In order to make authentic resources comprehensible, participants agreed that the learning task needs to be leveled so that students don’t feel overwhelmed. @ZJonesSpanish encouraged teachers to use Bloom’s Taxonomy and the ACTFL 21st Century Skills Map for ways to make the tasks fit the proficiency of the students.

Thank You!

Thank you to our moderators, @placido and @CoLeeSensei, for keeping us on our toes and sharing great authentic resources. Also, thanks to all of you that came and shared your ideas and opinions: it wouldn’t be #langchat without you!

We love to find ways to help you learn as a language professional. Please help us know what to talk about during #langchat by sharing your topic ideas for upcoming chats with us.



Additional Resources

Apps Gone Free
Kiva Brain Pop app

French Links and Apps

AATF’s Delicious page
Quebec Government Website Carnaval de Quebec
Jour de la Terre Quebec Marche Malin app
List of French Apps (@CatherineKU72)

Spanish Links and Apps

Univision app
RTVE app
List of Spanish Apps (@CatherineKU72)
Que Rica Vida recipe app
Nestle TV Pocoyo for Spanish
Authentic Resources organized by theme (@ZJonesSpanish)
Authentic Resources organized by grammar point (@ZJonesSpanish)
Authentic Music organized by location and country (@ZJonesSpanish)
Mexico City Craigslist IKEA Online Store in Spanish
El Corte Ingles Online Store in Spanish Yabla